Emily Suzanne Clark
I posted here about a collaborative research project overseen by the American Theological Library Association, the Catholic Library Association, and the Association of Jewish Librarians and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project, "In Good Faith: Collection Care, Preservation, and Access in Small Theological and Religious Studies Libraries" focused on the creation, distribution, and analysis of a survey focused on the care and preservation needs and challenges of small religious studies libraries. Our goal was to collect information from the librarians and archivists at small religious studies and theological libraries and get a sense of the collection care and preservation needs that were unique to these smaller institutions. I joked with the librarians and archivists that I worked with on the advisory board that I felt like the "token researcher," particularly as they referred to library and archive jargon that went over my head or referenced abbreviations and groups they all knew and I didn't. But I think my presence and participation in the project was important. I was able to represent the researchers who use the materials at these institutions.
The results of the survey we created are in, and the project's research consultants have put together a great report of our analysis of the data. We discovered a lot of things - some alarming and many of interest to those of us who use the sources in these institutions. Many of these small religious studies and theological libraries and archives have low budgets and a surprising low number of employees (some without anyone full-time). Many of them don't have disaster plans. Many of them don't have online finding aids! So when we go hunting for documents, we have no way of knowing the rich treasure-trove of sources these places have. Part of the survey included a write-in area for them to list their most valuable and vulnerable holdings. And, dissertation and book project alert, they had some great stuff! Personal writings of Mother Katherine Drexel, meeting minutes from every kind of religious group you can imagine, families bibles dating to the 1700s, artwork, old Hebrew books brought over by immigrants in the 1800s, the personal effects of the founders and foundresses of religious orders, and newspapers, letters, diaries, and manuscripts galore. Researchers like you and me need to be able to find these sources. Additionally, many of them had holdings that had yet to be processed and cataloged. In other words, some of the libraries and archives didn't even know what all they had!
In you want to know more, look at the survey results. Or sit in on the upcoming webinar that our project consultants have planned. Our next steps are providing resources to help these small institutions and develop ways to make their unique holdings known to researchers like us.
About the IMLS: The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Our mission is the inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov